Former Howard student's police record cleared Girl was charged in brawl before teacher's death

September 05, 1998|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

A key participant in a schoolyard brawl that preceded the death of a teacher at a Howard County high school last year had her criminal conviction stricken and her sentence reduced to probation yesterday, a move that drew criticism from the county's top prosecutor.

Howard Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney cleared the record of Erica R. L. Gresham, 19, of a guilty finding and granted her probation before judgment, wiping out a suspended six-month jail term she received for her role in the fight May 1997 at Wilde Lake High School.

Gresham received the six-month term last year when she pleaded guilty to disturbing school operations, a misdemeanor. Prosecutors dropped felony assault charges against the former Howard High School student who hit two girls with a miniature baseball bat during the fight.

Gresham has completed one part of her sentence -- 60 days of community service -- and Sweeney ruled that she must complete another part, 18 months of supervised probation.

Biology teacher Lawrence C. Hoyer, 60, died shortly after he tried to break up the fight in the school's parking lot. Prosecutors dropped plans to charge one or more students with manslaughter because autopsy reports showed he died of a heart attack with no indications of injuries from the fight. Twelve students were charged with offenses ranging from assault to trespassing.

Prosecutors objected to the sentence reduction in court, and Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon criticized Sweeney's decision, saying her office sought the harshest penalties it could against those involved.

"The criminal justice system really couldn't provide the real justice for [Hoyer's] death," she said. "I think the conviction should have stayed on her record."

In court, Sweeney said the reduced sentence was appropriate because Gresham had no other criminal record, performed her community service on time and is attending college.

Her attorney agreed. "The court is not interested in trying to destroy someone's life because an 18-year-old exercises some poor judgment," Charles L. Fuller said.

Gresham, a sophomore at Tennessee State University, declined to comment yesterday.

Witnesses said Hoyer was kicked by students when he tried to stop the fight. He collapsed after escorting one of the students back into the school.

During her trial in November, Gresham said, "I am sorry for anything that happened as a result of this fight."

Pub Date: 9/05/98

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